The almighty row about Harry and Meghan isn’t just about the behaviour of the junior prince and his American bride. Bigger, harder to define feelings are afoot — and I don’t mean racism, or snobbery, or misogyny, none of which is really driving this disaster. . . .Polls show that most Britons think the Sussexes have the right to go off on their own if they want to, but on the other hand they also many people want to strip them of their titles and all their income if they do so. Go if you want, people seem to be saying, but don't look for help from us.
Today, we are told, in a drawing room at Sandringham, a showdown is taking place between Meghan, the unhappy American princess dialing in from Canada, and the 93-year-old Queen — mediated by their various princes. It would be hard to find two more suitable representatives than these two women of the clashing philosophies that, in different ways, have dominated British and European politics for the past decade. Tradition versus progress, duty versus self-actualisation, community versus commerce, nation versus globalisation.
This is the part that really interested me:
On one level, the British public have become liberals with amazing completeness in just over a generation. From the ‘Red Wall’ in the North to affluent London, from young to old, we have accepted and grown fond of a world of individual rights, self-realisation and freedom from judgment. By the logic of this world-view, there can be no doubt: of course the Sussexes must be free to do as they please and shake off the constraints of their elders. Who would stand in the way of a young family’s search for happiness?I think this is exactly right and has been since the 1700s at least. The program of the liberal Enlightenment can be expressed logically and defined in plain prose: freedom, legal equality, economic growth. The conservative program is often ultimately about things that are hard to put into words. Most British monarchists could not explain very well why they want a royal family, which Thomas Paine long ago pointed out is an absurd notion:
But on another level, there is a growing fear that this same logic, in its relentless ratchet towards ‘progress’, will inadvertently destroy the things we hold most dear. It’s an uneven conflict because where the liberal world view is coherent, defensible and ostensibly virtuous, many of the things it threatens are hard to defend in the same terms. This mismatch makes people defensive and angry, as the Sussexes are now discovering.
How a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into.But people know that having one just feels right.
I'm not saying that all conservatism is emotional; much of it is based on a justified skepticism about grand ideas for making things better, a reluctance to trust outsiders with your own security, and a determination to hold onto what you have. But I do believe that much of it is about wanting things to feel the way they always have. To many people, tradition makes life feel better and safer, and none of your arguments about economic growth or individual rights will make much headway against that.